A Couple Weeks Without Internet at Home

A lot has been going on as 2016 has turned over to 2017. The biggest news is the purchase of a new house. It is a fixer-upper, and a lot of fixing has occurred since closing at the end of the year. That has been taking up most of my disposable time.

But another interesting thing happened. One of my Christmas gifts to my significant other is that I was going to pay for the internet. She was tired of having to negotiate with the cable company, so I told her to cancel the service and I’d set it up and pay the bill. I thought it would be relatively seamless, but it was a process that included 2 weeks of no internet at the house.

In a way I was looking forward to the downtime. The internet is great, but it’s also a huge time suck. I know I waste a lot of time trolling blogs, forums, and YouTube. Plus there is the ever present work email to drive me nuts and waste time. I figured that cutting the cord would equate to more reading and writing. I also thought I would leave the house earlier since I wouldn’t spend time in the morning screwing around on the internet.

I was sort of right. I did have a few productive evenings working on articles for my affiliate website, and work product for my law firm. It wasn’t the renaissance I would have hoped for, but I did a fair amount of both reading and writing.

Oddly enough I got to the office at the same time (or later) than I usually would. Instead of browsing the web I read magazines over coffee. I guess people still found ways to waste time before the internet. Go figure.

It was an interesting little experiment, but I’m glad to have the internet back. I do enjoy a number of blogs, and my online business suffered a microscopic amount. Being able to answer work emails after hours means I won’t spend as much time at the office chipping away at email. Presumably that means I’ll be more productive. Who knows.

Still, if I had to do this again I would. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Life goes on without internet at home. It’s a necessary evil for work, a great resource for the disciplined and intellectually curious, but mostly a waste of time.

Student Loans: The Home Stretch

For whatever reason I haven’t felt compelled to write much recently. I won’t try to rationalize it – things have been going on in my personal life, and my mind has been in other places. But my finances click along and my various businesses wend their way through 2016. There have been bumps in the road but I am trying to roll with the punches and use them as opportunities to grow.

On the personal finance side I have continued to diligently pay down my student loans (lobbing an extra $2k a month at them). This is despite a desire to “build a war chest” (which is actually the title of a draft post that is still lingering as a draft). And in some ways I have succeeded in building a small war chest. I am sitting on 10k or so in my checking account. My student loan liability is a little over 11k at this point – so the end is near, I almost have enough liquidity to cover the entire loan (although admittedly it would clean me out). If I wanted to I could fire of a check to cut that liability to the bone, and finish the entire mess off within a few months.

But as I look at the home stretch I stop and wonder. When my loans were at 6.8% interest it made perfect sense to pay those down aggressively. Since refinancing my loans to a sub 4% interest rate, the rational person would (in theory) make minimum payments and then shuttle the rest off into purchasing assets that presumably would make more than 4% interest. The net effect would be greater. Yet I feel irrational about these loans. For the past 2 or 3 years my biggest financial goal has been to pay them off. Now I feel like a cat toying with a cockroach, and I wonder if I should slowly play this out or double down and aggressively pay them off.

I suppose in the long term it doesn’t matter at this point. The amount is trivial and in the grande scheme of things there will not be a tremendous net effect. And again, I have been irrational towards this debt. For some reason the idea of an unsecured debt hanging over me really leaves me uneasy. It festers and boils in the back of my mind and I haven’t been able to compartmentalize it away like my mortgage or car payment. Instead, whenever I see the balance I just want to make it smaller and smaller. To obliterate it from my balance sheet with the flick of my middle finger.

However, I like the idea of having a little cash on hand. Obviously we don’t know where the market is going, but if it takes another turn downward it would be great to have some funds to deploy. I’ll probably just continue to throw $2k a month at it for a little while longer and pay this sucker off in under 6 months. If anything, it will be satisfying to reach my goal – and then I can let the cash pile back up (in places earning interest).

Beyond that, the most interesting thing going on is a little electronic product business I started maybe a year ago. I created a digital product (it’s a series of PDFs) and am using GumRoad to sell it. I ascribed to my perfect is the enemy of good strategy, got a minimum viable product up, and then more or less let it sit on the back burner as I focused on other things.

The product is priced just shy of $75, and I have sold maybe 10 copies since it’s inception (maybe a year or so ago). Nothing incredible. In the first quarter of 2016 it averaged about 1 sale a month. I am pleased that it is at least generating some revenue, and have decided to pay a little more attention to it. Search traffic is slowly growing to the product’s website, and I recently hired a graphic designer to come up with a banner for the product, and have spent some time working on the copy and adding a little content to the blog. Traffic has trended upwards and I actually made 2 sales in the past 30 days (whereas before I was probably one sale every 30-45 days).

So that is pretty cool and I would like to try and refine this business further and see if I can get traffic and conversions up. In reflecting on my affiliate websites (and thinking about the goals of this very blog) I realize that there is just a shit ton of noise and competition out there in the affiliate space (and in the personal finance space, for that matter). All things equal it’s best to move up the value chain towards creating your own products. So that is what I have done. I am not sure how big my market is. The product is very niche and geographically specific, but it was an idea that I had and I wanted to bring it to fruition.

My goal with the business currently is to obtain 1 sale a week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

View from the Mountain Top

I just finished reading through the entirety of Thoughts of an Anonymous Lawyer, a chronicling a big law lawyer’s 6 year journey to financial independence. While it is daunting that the blog goes back to 2009, he doesn’t post more than a dozen or so times a year making it something you can read through in a couple hours.

Needless to say, as a young lawyer the journey he underwent is pretty fascinating. Growing his net work from $300k-1.7M in 6 years is impressive, and it takes a lot of guts to walk away from what looks like a $500k salary. I enjoyed how it read like a diary. It struck me as an honest look at one man’s mission to escape the rat race.

But it also goes to show how miserable the practice of law can be. I won’t sit here and say I am miserable, but handling divorce litigation matters and generally nasty situations on a daily basis has its moments. And I barely survived a summer internship at a big law firm – I highly doubt that I could have clawed my way to the top like this guy. I think the takeaway for me is to try to appreciate the journey to the extent that is possible.

Hats off to him to stick it out, stack the cash, and pull the cord when the time is right. It certainly lends some perspective and I know I am a better person for it.

Enjoy the early retirement Anonymous Lawyer. I am sure there are plenty of folks who would love to pick up those extra billable hours while you are vagabonding in SE Asia. Speaking of which, I gotta get ready for my hearing in the morning…

Perfect is the Enemy of Good

Perfect is the Enemy of Good. This is a maxim I use quite a bit. Perhaps I overuse it, letting it all hang out. But I’d rather put something out there, than nothing at all.

I used this maxim when I started my law firm, choosing to focus on getting a minimum viable product up, and then pounding the pavement for potential clients. I didn’t even have my diplomas on the wall for the first year. I was too busy trying to get shit done to worry about the minutiae. Hell I didn’t even have malpractice insurance at first – how are you going to commit malpractice if you don’t have any clients?

I think a lot of people use perfection as an excuse. An excuse to not create or ship. “It’s not perfect,” they say. So it sits on a shelf collecting dust, with all of the other imperfect ideas.

About a year into my journey starting a law firm, another young guy straight of out school rented space in my building and tried to start a firm of his own. He labored over picking out the right CPA, designing business cards, building the perfect website, reading every book on the subject, and asked inane questions about every little detail. The problem he had is that he didn’t focus on what really mattered: finding clients to pay for his services. He spent all his time decorating his office and no time hustling for work. He also wanted to practice in a very niche area of the law, and he didn’t want to get his hands dirty with the kind of work coming through the door. That wasn’t what he envisioned his perfect law firm to be.

After several months of re-designing his letterhead, his fixed costs ate away his savings and he died on the vine. It was sad to see him shutter his business and go, but if he spent half the time pounding the pavement that he did selecting the perfect credit card processor, he would probably still be here.

I have applied this philosophy to a number of other ventures, including this very website. The idea is to actually do something, instead of figeting around nervously trying to muster the balls to actually put yourself out there. You miss 100% of the swings that you don’t take and learn more from your failures than your successes.

Sure, after you have proven the concept it’s important to not put out sloppy work, and as you build a legitimate business or hone your art it makes sense to take a closer look at the systems and formalities that need to be in place to support a viable going concern. But don’t use perfection as a crutch.

So shoot first and ask questions later. Or ship nothing and continue to do what you have always done.

2016 Goals and Resolutions

All the self help gurus tell you to write down your goals. I suppose it’s my turn to stand atop the mountain. Now that I have this nifty new blog, I figured I would take the time to think of some of my goals and resolutions for 2016 (as some of them are finance related, and all have a way of filtering down to my bottom line – whether in business, quality of life, or both).

Plus this is a great way to store and revisit them.

Save at Least 50% of My Net Income

I easily did this last year (although I don’t have any exact numbers) if you factor in paydown of my student loans and car. Some might call that cheating, but as my accountant says “Paying down debt builds your balance sheet the same way saving money does”. So I have decided to include that. And I did a good job paying down my student loan debt last year if I do say so. Mint tells me that I started 2015 with $45,984 in student loans, and ended the year with a balance of $20,199.

As I am self employed and have started to ramp up my income, I am more closely attuned to taxes, specifically (legally) minimizing the amount of taxes I have to pay. I opened a SEP IRA in 2015 and also decided in the middle of the year to make my personal contributions to a traditional IRA rather than the ROTH IRA I had been contributing to for 3 years prior.

Get Free of Consumer Debt Student Loans

Another lofty ambition, although if I kept the pace I had going in 2015, I should be able to wipe out my student loans without any issue. I also have a car loan with a ~$7,000 balance. The interest rate on that is under 3% and I have another 2 years of payments. I have not attacked that debt aggressively like my student loans, and I am not sure I will. But who knows, if I knock out those student loans and still feel frisky I may pay off my car early.

That would leave me with a modest mortgage that I am OK with continuing to pay for the time being.

No Email on My Phone

I have 2 email accounts that I check regularly: my work account and personal account. I haven’t had work email on my phone for over a year and I don’t miss it. E-mail is a huge time suck, I check it way too much already, and the thought of having my work in my pocket at all times doesn’t particularly excite me.

But I still have had my personal account on my phone, and I check it a dozen or so times a day. And really there is no reason to. 99% of it is not time-sensitive, and it’s just a waste of time so I took my email completely off my phone today and the goal is to not re-install it. Lets see how that goes.

3 Beers a Week

I love beer (and loved drinking in general). I made the realization a few months ago after watching a Casey Neistat video that alcohol kills productivity. So I stopped drinking as much (basically no hard liquor – maybe a beer or 2 a night, and trying to abstain completely when the mood strikes me).

Then I had a chat with my buddy Andrew who told me he has been replacing beer with wine, which immediately got me on a bit of a wine kick.

Long story short I’d like to limit myself to 1 drink a day during the week and 3 beers a week, substituting a little more red wine for beer. Lets see how this goes.

Read 2 Books a Month

I’d like to read at least a couple books a month, which would put me around 25 books for the year. I more or less did that last year. I recently signed up for Goodreads, so I’ll be able to track this a little better and perhaps even write a book review or 2 here. I read a mix of fiction and non fiction, enjoy biographies of successful business people, and generally try to read a little every day (even if it is 15 minutes before bed). I don’t think it will be too tough to reach this goal but lets see.

Swim 3 Times a Week

What list of resolutions would be complete without a fitness related resolution? Although 2015 has generally been a great success for me, one thing that suffered was my fitness. I got fatter. I essentially started a second job over the summer, and working a second job in the evenings cut down on my gym time (which is when I like to work out during the week). But I need to get my act together if I am going to continue to be productive.

I used to swim a few times a week and favored short sprint work outs (10 100 yard laps timed – with the goal of going as fast as possible). I always loved building on progress in the gym, but my inconsistency in the pool made it basically impossible to improve each time I went for a swim. I have decided to take the pressure off of my performance in the pool and instead swim for at least 30 minutes (15 sets of 100 yards at 1:45 a 100). So far I have really enjoyed this more leisurely workout, and I actually feel very relaxed and sore after the swims.

So I’m going to shoot for swimming every Saturday and Sunday and at least 1 day during the week.

Write 1 Article a Week on this Blog

I want to try and write at least one article a week on here. I am hooked on Casey Neistat vlogs, and the guy produces a nicely edited video every day to an audience of millions. I admire Casey for a number of reasons, and I want to pull a page from his book and force myself out of my comfort zone, and to create more and consume less. I’m not ready for an article a day, but I think an 1 article a week is a good goal. So I will resolve to write at least one article a week here and see what happens. I can’t guarantee the quality here – this may be my equivalent of morning pages.

Final Thoughts

That’s it for now. My goals regurgitated on digital paper. To be updated, amended, and revisited in the future.

Introduction and First Post

I have been tossing the idea of starting a personal finance blog around in my head for some time now. I have greatly enjoyed reading these websites, and designing my own financial future over the past 3 or so years since graduating from school and working full time. I have always been fascinated by money and have always wanted some form of freedom and independence. I also have some experience building websites, having successfully launched a small hobby website for some side income, and used a website to launch a successful brick and mortar small business. Finally, I enjoy reading and writing. I can think of few things that have generated a greater return for me in my life than all the books I have read and words I have put to page. Term papers, clumsy emails, attempts at fiction, projects for work, blog posts – all opportunities to find art in the mundane.

So the thought of combining all of these interests into a website is a natural extension. The question any one has in starting a project like this is “why me? what do I have to offer the reader?”. Also you need to find your shtick, or niche as it were. Especially in a crowded space like personal finance. You need to focus on blogging about paying down debt, real estate, frugality, internet marketing, financial independence, stocks, bonds, dividend stocks, taxes, peer to peer lending, etc. Find your niche and find your voice. And I have given some thought over the past few months as to how my voice would sound and where my niche would be.

And then I decided to through caution in the wind, and niches out the window. I have some experience with many of these “niches” and want to provide commentary on them all. I want to write about what I find interesting, share the journey with the hope of helping someone. Or perhaps this will be a simple exercise in mental masturbation. Thought experiments. Shameless article writing for traffic and affiliate income. The incoherent ranting of a delusioned man trying to find his space in the world. Who knows where the wind will take this.

In Robert Kiysakis’ book Cashflow Quadrant, he said there were 3 major ways to build wealth: income producing stocks and bonds, real estate, and businesses. My wealth building strategy involves all 3, and I intend to write about all three here.

And of course every blog needs a name. I spent a small amount of time thinking of this. SnappySix has always stuck in my head for some reason. A piece of gristle caught in the gums of my consciousness. It means nothing, but we all need a shtick, and mine will be (for the time being) “Personal Finance on all Six Cylinders”.

So that’s enough background for now.